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Drywall Protest-Raw video
Drywall Protest-Raw video: Gov. Charlie Crist promises homeowners with defective drywall Friday that he will "look into" declaring an emergency on the problem so federal funds can be released to help them. The homeowners gathered outside a campaign fundraising dinner for Crist

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1:10 A.M.Plug in: Get an in-depth look at the Chinese drywell situation in Southwest Florida.

Defective Chinese drywall is on trial.

The eyes of manufacturers, the building industry and insurers are riveted on whose plate — or plates — the billions of dollars to fix it will fall.

The first bellwether trial in the more than 3,000 lawsuits filed across the country regarding the tainted product ended Monday; another starts March 15 in New Orleans.

The lawsuits have been consolidated in that city in federal multidistrict litigation before U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon. What happens will pave the way for future suits.

The first trial was not to determine blame but rather the best fix and how much it will cost.

Fallon has said he will make his ruling soon in the case involving seven Virginia homes vs. Taishan Gypsum Co. of China, which has not responded to lawsuits.

That’s what causes high anxiety for the building industry and insurers. With Chinese manufacturers thumbing their collective noses in the face of U.S. court judgments that can’t be enforced in their country, who will pay?

“It’s a can of worms,” said Jack McCabe, a Deerfield Beach-based real estate analyst who tracks Florida’s home markets.

“When this problem first became apparent a couple of years ago I had said at that time that this could be somewhat catastrophic for the industry, depending on who had the ultimate liability for it.”

That liability is in the billions, he said.

“Whoever ultimately is going to pay the tab ... it’s going to be devastating.”

People who have homes with the drywall have been devastated.

“The problem is once you remediate this stuff, the house still has a long-lasting stigma attached to it,” McCabe said.

Brenda Coles of Cape Coral struggles with that very problem.

“I’m coming at it from a different angle,” she said.

“Not only am I personally involved living in my dream riverfront home, but I’m a Realtor, I’ve been a Realtor for 32 years. What value, what stigma is left, even if there is a fix?”
The most accepted method has been gutting the home to the studs and replacing the drywall, at a cost of about $100,000.
Experts testifying in New Orleans have come up with higher figures, which include removing wiring and replacing appliances and other damaged goods.
Each home will be evaluated individually, said attorney Scott Weinstein with Morgan & Morgan in Fort Myers, who also is on the plaintiffs’ steering committee in New Orleans.
In Florida, Palm Beach County decided to give drywall victims a 70 percent break on their homes’ assessed value, in part from contractors’ estimates it would take $85 per square foot to fix a home.
For an average 2,000-square-foot home, that would be $170,000. Since enough drywall was imported to the U.S. to build 60,000 homes, the ballpark repair tab could be $10.2 billion.
If manufacturers continue to ignore U.S. courts as Tianjin did in this first trial, plaintiffs’ lawyers say they will try to seize ships carrying a company’s product.
“If there’s any asset of a corporate defendant against whom we have a judgment, we would ask the court to enter an order and federal marshals would seize those assets,” Weinstein said. Other attorneys in the case have voiced similar opinions.
But international law attorney Dan Harris of Seattle, who writes the China Law Blog, believes that idea is insanity.
“If (Weinstein) thinks the U.S. courts are going to be willing to destroy international trade on this issue, I wish him all the luck in the world,” Harris said. “Think about it. Say you fly up to Seattle and you punch me. Should I be able to seize the airplane you flew on?
“It’s absurd. It’s lunacy. And some of these shipping companies are huge. Some are not Chinese. Some are Chinese. Some are Korean. Some are Dutch.”
Another wrinkle: The prospect of dueling drywall repair methods. The federal court will rule on a protocol to fix the problem, but the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also is coming up with one.
If the methods are different, which would take precedence?
The safety commission protocol will be used by consumers looking for answers, whether they would be in a court case or not, said Clint Odom, legislative counsel on consumer affairs for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando. Odom expects the commission protocol to be the definitive fix.
Weinstein disagrees.
“The CPSC doesn’t have any jurisdiction over our cases,” he said. “If Judge Fallon’s remediation protocol is different from the CPSC’s, and the courts and juries before Judge Fallon continue to adopt Judge Fallon’s remediation protocol, that is what we are going to seek for our clients.”

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“Not only am I personally involved living in my dream riverfront home, but I’m a Realtor, I’ve been a Realtor for 32 years. What value, what stigma is left, even if there is a fix?”

The most accepted method has been gutting the home to the studs and replacing the drywall, at a cost of about $100,000.

Experts testifying in New Orleans have come up with higher figures, which include removing wiring and replacing appliances and other damaged goods.

Each home will be evaluated individually, said attorney Scott Weinstein with Morgan & Morgan in Fort Myers, who also is on the plaintiffs’ steering committee in New Orleans.

In Florida, Palm Beach County decided to give drywall victims a 70 percent break on their homes’ assessed value, in part from contractors’ estimates it would take $85 per square foot to fix a home.

For an average 2,000-square-foot home, that would be $170,000. Since enough drywall was imported to the U.S. to build 60,000 homes, the ballpark repair tab could be $10.2 billion.

If manufacturers continue to ignore U.S. courts as Tianjin did in this first trial, plaintiffs’ lawyers say they will try to seize assets.

“If there’s any asset of a corporate defendant against whom we have a judgment, we would ask the court to enter an order and federal marshals would seize those assets,” Weinstein said.

Another wrinkle: The prospect of dueling drywall repair methods. The federal court will rule on a protocol to fix the problem, but the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also is coming up with one.

If the methods are different, which would take precedence?

The safety commission protocol will be used by consumers looking for answers, whether they would be in a court case or not, said Clint Odom, legislative counsel on consumer affairs for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando. Odom expects the commission protocol to be the definitive fix.

Weinstein disagrees.

“The CPSC doesn’t have any jurisdiction over our cases,” he said. “If Judge Fallon’s remediation protocol is different from the CPSC’s, and the courts and juries before Judge Fallon continue to adopt Judge Fallon’s remediation protocol, that is what we are going to seek for our clients.”

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